I’ll never forget the day when my wife and I drove our oldest daughter, Chrystal, to university. She was technically an adult, but I still saw a little girl whenever I glanced at her in the rearview mirror. It was exciting to see Chrystal transition into independence, but it also caused me a great deal of concern.
Is she ready? I wondered. Will she make wise choices? Is her faith strong enough for life’s challenges?
The answers would come soon enough. Some of her choices were good; others were not. But more than anything I’ve ever experienced, watching Chrystal head into adult life underscored for me the importance of instilling a strong faith in our children. Once our children leave the nest, they will need to rely on their own ability to go to God during trials and successes. They will need to be secure in their own faith.
But what does that really mean? What is faith? The one definition I always told my children is that faith is acting like God is telling the truth. Faith is an action done in response to God’s viewpoint on a matter.
Here are three concepts to help children better understand that definition:
Faith is anchored in truth
Over the years, I’ve met many people who talk about faith yet show no outward connection to God’s viewpoint on the matter. They might say, “If I just have more faith, then this or that will happen.” Later, they wondered why faith didn’t seem to work for them.
Teach your kids that faith isn’t a feeling, and it’s not a supernatural force to get God to give us what we desire. If faith isn’t tied to God’s truth, it accomplishes nothing.
Faith is only as strong as the thing to which it is anchored. Indeed, a person might be full of faith even if she doesn’t feel it. She might be willing to act in faith — to love an enemy, to protect the weak, to respect a grumpy teacher — simply because she believes that what God says is true, even if her emotions and reasoning do not compel the action.
One of my favourite illustrations of faith is when Jesus told Simon the fisherman to let down his nets in the deep water. Simon responded by saying that he and his companions had worked hard all night and hadn’t caught anything. Then he said, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5, NIV, emphasis added).
Well, the fishermen got the biggest catch of their lives. What they discovered that day, and what we can help our children learn every day, is the principle of faith in action. Faith means acting on what God says in spite of our opinions, our experience, our education. Faith is acting on the truth, whether we feel the truth or not, whether we like the truth or not, whether we agree with the truth or not.
Faith grows in the dark
I love the immensity of the Texas sky. One evening, I looked up and saw only one star in that enormous expanse. The rest of the sky was empty — or at least it appeared so. After a short time, I saw more stars appear. Soon, many more were visible.
I shared that imagery later with my kids as we discussed what faith is and how it works. The stars were in place when I had first looked up. But I couldn’t see them until the darkness settled in around me. We talked about how sometimes the greatest lessons of faith — when we recognise most clearly the light and truth of God’s love — happen in the dark.
Of course, we don’t seek to create darkness in our kids’ lives, but we do give them a great gift when we help them have the ability to look to God when darkness inevitably falls. Help them see God’s grace after they make a poor decision. Help them recognise that He gives wisdom to make better decisions the next time.
God may also allow difficulties in our lives that are not the result of anything we’ve done but are an opportunity to strengthen our faith. Teach your children that God works through trials for our good. Trials test the heart, showing us where faith is young and still needs to grow, and where there has been growth already.
Faith mostly comes down to how we view life through the lens of God’s Word. Faith is perspective. Will our children see the darkness, or the stars?
The book of Hebrews teaches us some of the greatest lessons on faith. In chapter 12, we read how the faith of a Christian is a lot like running a race: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Notice here that faith isn’t a 100 metre dash or a quick sprint around the track. No, the race of faith is a marathon. It requires a steady, daily dependence on the character and teachings of God. If faith doesn’t exhibit this daily dependence, when the challenges of life come, your child will be too out of shape to take the next step.
Reading and memorising Scripture has always been a daily part of our family’s faith. We taught our kids that God’s Word is important enough that we immerse ourselves in it regularly. Had the Bible simply been something we opened on Sundays, they wouldn’t have learned that faith is a long-term commitment requiring steady exposure to God’s Word.
When our daughter Chrystal came upon a time of personal crisis in university, she told me she turned to her faith to help her through it. She says she wrote down Bible verses that reminded her of how God felt about her, and she put them in places where she could see them throughout the day. Chrystal says those verses brought her back to a place of confidence in her position as a child of God.
My daughter admits that she didn’t necessarily feel like the verses she wrote down were true. But in faith, she put God’s truth in her heart daily in hopes that it would eventually take root and bear fruit — which it did. Knowing she did this during her hour of darkness warms my heart with delight and satisfaction. What more could a father hope for than for his daughter’s faith to be real during the trials and mistakes of life?